The Best Books to Read at the Beach


A few years ago, I went to St. John with my boyfriend and his family. I packed an eclectic mix of books, as I tend to do on trips. One of them was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which had been recommended to me by several people.

American Gods was not my favorite Gaiman book for a few different reasons, but on top of that it was super dark, violent, and just overall really disturbing. Exactly the sort of thing you want to be reading while lying on a pristine Caribbean beach.

A good book is a good book, and I’m normally not picky about where I read what. But reading the right books in the right setting is like the sprinkles on top of the icing on top of a good cake (the book being cake–do you follow?) It can make your reading experience that much more amazing.

So here, in no particular order, is my list of the best books to read at the beach:

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson I urge you to pick this up, even if you don’t normally read YA. It’s just a lovely, lovely story about family and love and art and life, and the writing is so beautiful it makes me want to cry.

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve I read this one on the aforementioned St John trip, and it was like a breath of fresh sea air after American Gods. It’s solemn and steady, as Anita Shreve novels tend to be, but the setting–a wealthy New Hampshire family’s beach house–is absolutely perfect for a summer read.

Panic by Lauren Oliver If you’re in a thriller mood. This is a thriller that takes place during the summer and while it’s not all joy and roses, there are some really great characters, page-turning events, and it doesn’t get too dark for the beach.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper If you wish to be laughing hysterically under your umbrella. This novel, about a family coming together to sit shiva once their father dies, is the funniest one I’ve ever read to take place at essentially a week-long funeral. It’s also really touching and beautiful.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz A book about a Mexican-American teenage boy trying to figure out who he is. Filled with teen angst in the best possible sense of the phrase, lyrical descriptions of the southwest, and twists and turns aplenty so you’re never sure exactly where the story is going. I loved, loved this book.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer I love stories about friends coming together as adults after spending their childhoods together. And this story, about kids who met for the first time at summer camp and the strange and twisted paths that bring them all back together again, does not disappoint.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart This is good for summer in that it takes place on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. It’s also one of my favorite books of all time because of how lovely the writing is. However, make sure you keep your sunglasses on while reading, because you’ll be sobbing behind them by the end.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple A weird, wonderful, twisting story about a mother’s love and the pursuit of art, which takes place partially on a cruise ship to Antarctica. It is amazing and funny and surprising and you should read it.

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith All of Smith’s books are fun, well-written light-ish reads, but this was my favorite so far, about a girl and a boy locked in an elevator together during a blackout, how they’re separated, and how they find their way back to each other again.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos de los Santos is a poet, which comes through in her beautiful writing. This book is about a woman working in a coffee shop who meets a man who turns her world upside down, but not in the way you would think. It’s a book big on characters, and humor, and family, and unpredictability, and by the end you’ll be cheering for them all.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins All of Perkins’s books are sweet and well-written and take place in wanderlusty locales and make you keep turning the pages til you figure out just how these romantic entanglements will ever be resolved. You should read all three, but start with this first one.

Beginner’s Greek by James Collins This is another twisty, funny, sad, well-written story about how the path to true love never does run smooth. I can’t remember how this made its way into my beach bag but I’m so glad it did.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick A light but well-written read about the daughter of a wealthy Connecticut politician and her involvement with their loud, many-childrened neighbors.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer One of my all-time favorites, an epistolary novel that takes place on Guernsey right after the conclusion of World War II. It’s lovely and charming and makes me want to move there immediately.

The Duff by Kody Keplinger If you saw the terrible movie, do not let that deter you from the book. The book was a sweet, very fast read featuring something I find far too rare in the media at large: an unattractive heroine.

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster Another one that will make you laugh so hard you’ll cry. About an older man who moves to Park Slope after his divorce and the way he bumblingly puts his life back together again.

This list ended up being way longer than I thought it would be. But there’s no such thing as too many books. So in that vein, let me know if your own favorite beach reads in the comments!

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